Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Garden School

No! I don't own a garden school but do know of one and actually attended a course this summer-online. This post is about that garden design school because anyone who knows me or who reads this blog knows there are two very important things to me-gardening and education. I like to think I do both when I blog and it is the blog that indirectly led me to My Garden School.

Back in June the Managing Director (Elspeth Brisco) of My Garden School sent me an email with an interesting proposition. Would I be interested in reviewing a gardening course and in return I could take any course of my choosing for free (an approximately $200 value at today's current rates). Normally I just go ahead and refuse these propositions because I don't like the obligation to post on a certain subject. But then again I thought-gardening and education together? Hmmmm, sure why not. 

Since I was due to go on vacation in late June (which was when the next round of courses was due to begin)  I had to wait until the start of the following round of classes in order to register and begin my class. The wait was not long however and my class began on August 4th. It seems the classes start every six weeks or so. 

I am not new to online courses but I have never done a garden course online. I did not sign up for just any garden course though, I signed up for Garden and Landscape Design with John Brookes. I must admit that I had never heard of John Brookes before and simply chose the class for its subject matter. I later found out John Brookes is quite a famous garden/landscape designer across the big pond. This surely made sense since My Garden School is based in the United Kingdom. 

My class began right on time and upon going through the registration process I found the instructions very simple to understand and follow. The classes go something like this: each Saturday a video and lesson notes will be posted for the students. The students are to watch the video and read the notes (or vice versa) and then complete any homework that was assigned. With online classes you will always have work to do outside of class or you are not getting your money's worth. Each assignment was to be uploaded before the next Saturday; which of course was when the next lesson would be posted. I assume if you don't upload your assignment you will fail the course. I did not have this issue as I was able to complete all assignments in a timely manner. I did have an issue though. The United Kingdom is seven hours ahead of my time zone and I wondered what if any difference that would make. I don't think it mattered because there were a few times I uploaded my assignment Friday evening and I know it was already Saturday by the time I uploaded the assignment. As it was I might be overly worried about these small things but I think the time the assignments is due should be clarified. When I took typical online courses or when I taught courses I would always say the assignment is due by midnight. It should be midnight in the time zone the student is in or it should be laid out very carefully for all students to understand. We had students in this class that crosses all boundaries (one was in the western United States, one in Europe, one in Russia, and even one in Australia).

All lesson notes and videos were of excellent quality. I think Mr. Brookes took his time and carefully coordinated the video and the lesson notes. I did make a mistake the first week in that I read the lesson notes first then looked at the video. Let me just say this, reading English that an English person writes is not quite the same as reading something an American would write. The English language is very varied with words being spelled differently across the pond and even some grammar and mannerisms are different. I had issues with getting it all when I read the lesson notes first but it all became clear when I watched the video. There were no issues understanding English there. Each week thereafter I made a point to watch the video first then read the notes. 

Each video is about twenty minutes long and the lesson notes will take five to 10 minutes to read. The assignment is explained in both formats and the expectation was clear; however the interpretation of how to do it was not as clear. I think this may have been on purpose but I'm not sure. Oftentimes students try to figure out right away what exactly a professor desires in an assignment so they can give him or her that exacting assignment. When this happens it defeats the purpose of learning. The goal of learning is not to read the professor and then do as you think he would want. No, the goal of learning is to think within the parameters given to you by the professor. You must allow your own abilities to take over and do the work. Online classes do not allow you to figure out the instructor so you are pretty much on your own. Some of my classmates did ask for clarification but I did not find it necessary as the instructions were clear and the designs-well-they were up to us. Mr. Brookes did not say if they were right or wrong but he gave me (and I assume the other students) good feedback on the designs and work I did do and submit. 

Assignments ranged from site evaluation to using a grid system to design a cohesive design to finally designing a garden. I enjoyed all assignments and found they were not overly tough. Anyone could do them but because not everyone has the same experience there would be a wide range of end results Mr. Brookes would have to look at. This was not a problem with him at all and I felt like my designs were evaluated properly. 

Interaction among students was not very good. Some of the students took the time to update their profile and some did not. Some of the students talked to others and some didn't or only talked to Mr. Brookes. Usually with online classes you would see the other students' names and that was the case with this online school as well. I could see everyone else who was enrolled in the class as they could see me I am sure. They could not see if I uploaded my assignment or not and I could not see their work. I think if there was an area where all assignments could be posted it might have made for better learning about the different styles and learning. This might not be logical though because in my experience most folks don't want to share their work. 

I feel like the class was very worthwhile to me and I learned a few new tricks on designing. The length of the courses was perfect, the assignments applicable, and the course materials perfect. Interaction might need to be stepped up. Also perhaps a grading matrix to let students know exactly how they are doing. Sometimes online classes will have a matrix that allows everyone to see their progress with both grades and percentages of the work completed. This would be in addition to the personal feedback from the professor. Also, a certificate of completion would be a vital part of any course. I don't think the Garden School offers one for students who complete the course. I'm not sure but know I didn't receive one. 

There was one technical glitch with the website. The website was attractive and easy to follow and navigate, as was the course portion of the website but when I logged in each time there was a notice that said  'A PHP ERROR HAS BEEN ENCOUNTERED'. It did not affect the course or anything I used on the website so I did not worry about it.

The course I took was well worth taking to be able to have access to a world renown expert in their field. Mr. Brookes is a world renown landscape designer and the fact I did not know who he was is more a reflection on me than on him. There are many other people in the industry who are a part of the school and I think it most cool to be able to have access to them through the courses. Not to mention how good it would look for the person who completes the courses and is able to say on their professional resume "I was trained by Mr. John Brookes or XXXX." Yes, I can be a bit star struck at times but believe me when I tell you that when you are looking for a job every little bit helps-even star power!

Since I rarely post without photos I have included a few in this post about my designs. I've said many times I am more of a plant collector than a designer but I like to think that as time goes on I have refined my garden enough that it may SOMEDAY look like a designed garden. Well here are two pictures of design-one a lucky accident and the other by planned design. I won't ask you to guess which is which!

The opening picture is of serenia angelonia (Great plant Skeeter!) and a coreopsis. Both of these wonderful plants grow in large plant pots out front. They look great together because of a few design principles. One is that the flower forms are different and two is that the two colors being purple and yellow-are opposite on the color wheel. These colors are complementary colors in that they bring out the best of each other. 

This last photo is a sad photo indeed. We here in Tennessee are very low on rain and all of the plants are showing signs of stress. I monitor my water and promised myself last year I would not water. I have not kept that promise but I've done quite well at keeping the water bill down simply by monitoring my usage. A couple of plants that never need water are sedums and ornamental grasses. These two plants are coincidentally fall bloomers and shine in the garden when the rest of the garden is droopy, saggy, wilty, and generally sad looking. My borders are all mixed borders so I can at least have something looking good all seasons of the year. This time of the year it is the sedums and ornamental grasses. See how they show up so well and kind of dull everything else? You hardly notice the ratty irises to the left of the sedum or the dull Joe Pye Weed behind the ornamental grass do you? Mixing up borders is a trademark of my design and I can't think of any picture that shows it better than this one with the beautiful ornamental grass.

If interested take a look at one of John Brookes designs on this YouTube video. It is quite an amazing project.

in the garden....

Not sure why the last picture looks so washed out. It didn't when I uploaded it. Sigh. 
Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden


  1. What an interesting experience! The "school" should be happy to have such a well-written review.

    I think you might well qualify as one of their instructors! I learn something most every time I visit your blog.

    Did you finally get some rain? I have a friend visiting in your state and I thought I read on facebook this morning that it was raining where he was....

  2. Dear Tina, studying online is something I've never done but is very appealing because you can do it in your own time (within limits) and in your pyjamas if you want to. Sounds like you learned a lot. The garden photos look more like designs than collections to me. cheers, c

  3. Your class sounds wonderful, and after I watched the video, I want to join too! What a great opportunity for you.

  4. That sounds like an interesting course~I've one of his books and it is full of beautiful designed gardens. I hope you had a lot of the delicious rain that fell recently. gail

  5. Sounds interesting. Good for someone who can't make it to attend a formal school for a variety of reasons!

  6. Never did classes on line.
    You surely did a great review on this one.
    A garden course online sounds good,
    it must have taken a look time to create it. Thanks for the info.

  7. Rebecca, Thanks so much. Yes, we got about 2" of rain. I've been very busy in the garden and am running out of time. There is so much to always do I am thinking my garden is way too big.

    Catmint, Thanks so much. Some areas of the garden work out as looking designed-others not always. I try though as that's all we gardeners can do is try. Studying online is very neat but I find it can be difficult and demanding-way more than attending classes. Nonetheless I do these types of classes to avoid traveling a great distance and I've done well. The trick is to check frequently and keep up on the work-which can sometimes be more than when you are in class.

    Les, It was indeed a great opportunity and very cool. I enjoyed the experience and was honored Elspeth asked me to participate.

    Gail, You must have the coolest books! I had never heard of Mr. Brookes and here a fellow Tennessean has his book? I finally ordered Elizabeth Lawrence's book A Southern Garden largely because I had heard of it on blogs. Was not too impressed but read it cover to cover.

    Dave, Online studying is a super cool way to go. I always enjoy these classes and get a lot from them.

    Patsi, Ditto what I told Catmint. Online classes are very neat. I couldn't have gotten my undergrad degree without them because while traveling in Europe it was the only way to have continuity. I think Mr. Brookes did an outstanding job setting up his course and know it must've took a while. It sure helps that he teaches at the Oxford School of Design (I believe).

  8. Great information. You have outlined it well - well enough for us to get a feel of what it's like and some great suggestions for the school as well.

  9. Interesting and an honor indeed, I am not surprised you enjoyed it so much. You enjoy learning and add in the garden plant factor, what a plus:) Everything is turning green again from all this rain. Sadly my water bill is taking alot of green this year hahaha! We ran the sprinkler system all summer because we didn't want the yard to brown out. Oh well, now nature is replenishing us for free, hehehe. Still busy with all the school activities but during the day me and lil bundle have fun. Have a great day! Ciao

  10. Catching up on postings... in the one prior to this one..big pig!! I like that natural stream looking water feature too. Very cool.
    Glad you liked your online course. Great feedback, hope they read your posting. English English vs American English is fun to work through. :-)
    Can tell how dry things are by your last photo. The leaves on the tree on the right are so sad.

  11. HG, Yes indeed! The school has emailed me and they are taking the suggestions to heart and liked the feedback. I really enjoyed the whole process.

    Anonymous, This rain rocks! So good for the garden. Yes indeed on the green-we'll take it in the garden any day. Say hi to the kiddos. I've been subbing at the FCHS. Love it but been busy too.

    Janet, Elspeth read and it and emailed me back that she appreciated my feedback. The tree is a crepe myrtle. I do not water those guys but so far they are hanging tough. Now that we have had some rain they are all happy again. Yes indeed on the pig. Huge!

  12. A GREAT review. Sounds like it was a win, win for all.

  13. Hi Tina,
    We were delighted to have you as such a great student at MyGardenSchool. Your feedback has been invaluable to us (and we are acting on the constructive feedback). I have also passed your blog link to John Brookes himself, who is delighted.

    To everyone else - we would love to see you in the classrooms at MyGardenSchool and really value such amazing support in the early days of our little virtual gardening school!

    Happy Gardening (wherever you are!)
    Kindest regards
    (Oxford, UK)

  14. Hello all.
    That was a great class for you & I know you enjoyed it. We never get too old to learn, do we?
    Finally cooling down a bit here. Time to plant for Fall veggies. Some of mine are up already. Maybe if we continue to get a little shower they will do ok.

  15. Mom, It was surely fun indeed.

    Elspeth, Thanks so much. I checked in with John this morning via the virtual classroom. He was quite shocked he was reviewed but did like my post.

    Lola, Never too old for sure. I too am working on those fall veggies. Boy does the time ever pass quickly!

  16. Thanks for doing this review. I have seen My Garden School and wondered what the classes were like. I have done online courses before so I will probably look at this in more detail in the future

  17. Nice post Tina. I love online classes & the flexibility they offer ~ I think they make education possible for people in a number of restrictive situations. I've never taken a garden course online tho but I would be open to considering it in the future.
    Glad you had a positive experience & happy you got some much needed rain too.

  18. Tina, that is such a good experience. If only i have time and space, i might as well try it for the experience. I salute your diligence for learning more. Maybe the school or Mr Brooks should pay you for the advertisement and good review, LOL. Or maybe he should give you plants/flowers in kind, free.

  19. Sounds like a great class, Tina, and an opportunity to learn from a renowned expert that you ordinarily wouldn't have any other way. I've never taken an online class before, but I've signed up to take one on computer maintenance and diagnosing problems later this September. I'm not sure how I'll like the online format, but I'm hoping it will help me figure out how to solve all the computer problems I've been having lately!

    I like your comment about the goal of learning. I had one grad school professor who didn't encourage independent thought and just wanted us to regurgitate back to him what he had said. The best teachers are the ones who make you think for yourself!

  20. I've never taken an online class, Tina, but reading this gives me a good idea of the pros and cons as well as what to look for when shopping for one. Great review!
    (Love your ornamental grasses design- WOW!)

  21. Like you, I believe garden education is so vital. I wish it were part of the public school curriculum. We all need to know how to grow our own food and properly care for plants on our property. And I really enjoy looking at professionally-designed gardens...awsome!

  22. Ah, Angelonia Serena, One of my favorites and may be the only annual I plant next year! It was too difficult watering everything this year with our summer drought. Drought seems to be a normal every day word here in my neck of the woods. The water bill was on the moon this month and I cannot do that again. Something going wrong with some of the green giants and I am not happy about that since they are the main reason I have run the water daily.... Grrrrrr...

    Lowes in VA had gallon Sedums for $1.00 on the bargain bin. I showed my MIL where to find the bargain bins and she grabbed a cart and loaded 4 of the sedums soon after saying she was not going to purchase anything. Once she saw the bargain sedums, she was hooked. The Saint tried to warn her not to go into the garden center with me. hee hee.... Love those bargains...

    You are ever learning girl. No wasted mind in your head :-)